The first thing to touch Ava’s consciousness is her blinding headache. It reaches from deep in the base of her skull, to behind her eyes, to everywhere else it could reside. Her head feels numb with it. Every hint of thought itches and irritates and threatens to wash everything away in a wave of hot pain.
She fights back a plunging stab of nausea. If she throws up in her suit, she might choke to death on it, a searing thought pushes through to comment.
She tries to get a sense of herself, forcing steady breaths, doing her best not to explicitly think. She feels bruised, everywhere. She feels that she’s in her suit. She feels the need to crawl out of this horrid thing and curl up in a ball and weep.
She’s in her suit, something is wrong, and she’s probably going to die if she doesn’t do something.
Ava opens her eyes. They hurt as if she’s stared into a light for much, much too long. -She blinks a few times, to make sure her eyes just opened. It's pitch black.
She’s not- She’s in her suit- she needs to open her face shield.
She quickly palms the front of her helmet, to find it in place, and pulls the latch at the bottom. The face shield springs open, facing her with sight through her visor, instead of a dead screen. She-
She clamps her eyes shut upon processing what she’s seeing. She’s spinning, fast.
She’s on the verge of vomiting, again.
She hates this. She hates it.
She needs to stop spinning.
She carefully opens her eyes again. She brings her left arm up, and it aches, and a waterfall of stars flank it. The screen mounted to it is cracked and dead, too.
Another cold panic blooms into her chest. Ava halts, and listens for the sound of her suit.
It’s running. She can hear the pumps and fans in it going. Just her screens are dead.
She takes a pained breath in.
Next, she presses a button beside the screen. The automated voice of her suit still comes to life in response, loud enough to make her wince. “RCS Errors: Gyroscope Saturation, Star-Tracking Failure, Data-Link Failure.” She ignores them. She holds down the button, and the suit’s thrusters light up in rapid bursts.
The pressure in her head lets up, slightly.
-They cut out early. She’s still spinning, if slower. She still can’t see any ships for it.
She keeps going. She pushes down the button for her distress signal. The suit lists no errors, at least.
Then, reaching to her helmet, she switches her radio to the emergency channel. Last thing to do already, even.
..The words don’t come, for a second. Her mouth falters.
One does eventually. It feels awkward to make. “Help?”
“I’m on EVA. I’m untethered. I can’t see, I’m spinning,” she forces out. The words feel dull. “Please help.”
She’s going to die, then. This is how it happens.
She isn’t ready to.
She’s feels sick.
She isn’t ready to. She’s come this far for a reason. She’s bothered to for a reason.
Tears don’t help. They’re stinging in her eyes, before centrifugal force pulls them up. She can’t see.
She doesn’t have time for it. She forcefully shakes her head to clear them-
The headache flares with it, painfully washing out her senses.
She keeps her eyes shut. Breathes, shakily.
There’s no help here, because everyone’s gone. She’s alone.
-Ava must be the only living thing left in hundreds of thousands of kilometres.
No, millions of kilometres, even. An incomprehensible distance- no, volume, of nothing, and her.
..She is infinitely less than small, in this. She’s an insignificance. A rounding error.
She’s alone. Wholly, utterly alone, in a way she’s never conceived of before.
She doesn’t want to be alone.
She’s entirely, entirely alone. She needs that to stop. She can’t be alone like this.
-Her radio crackles, painfully loud, searing into her awareness. “-Can you hear me?”
“What?” Ava snaps at her newest source of discomfort. She hasn’t the emotional bandwidth for something more.
-Wait. Wait wait wait.
“-What?” Ava repeats, voice cracking with her change in tone.
“We- we see you; we’re coming to get you right now, petal. You’re safe now.”
A moment passes. She can hear her heartbeat thrumming in her ears.
“..-Promise?” she asks absurdly, not quite yet processing, as if ‘No’ were a possibility.
“Oh- yes. We’re coming, and we’re just a minute away, and you’re going to be okay. I promise,” they reassure, instead. A beat passes in which Ava no response to make. “-Would you be able to tell me your name?”
“A-Ava.” She clears her throat. “Ava Hume. Sorry.”
“Are you injured at all, Ava?” they push on.
“..I was unconscious, I think. -And I have a headache, and I’m a little bruised.” Ava lists. “Not much else.”
“Is there anything else, Ava?”
“I- don’t think so.” She hopes not. She thinks not.
“That’s really good news. We’re going to get you all checked up soon, okay?”
“-Thank you.” Ava takes a breath.
She carefully opens her eyes again. The spinning stars still aren’t too assuring. She tries to zone them out.
“I’m- Emmy. -By the way.” Ava thinks she’s going to live, though.
Another breath. The slightest loss of tension. “Hi, Emmy.”
“Hi, Ava.” She’s going to be okay. “How are you feeling?”
“..Better than a couple minutes ago.”
“That’s good,” Emmy says, sincerely. “Ah- Look left, for me, petal?”
Ava glances left, and tries to school the falling, tumbling sensation that comes with.
-She blinks. Her eyes strain. It looks like there’s nothing, until there isn’t, roughly in her axis of rotation: there’s a silhouette, presenting a straight line of star-less space, about ten times long as it is wide. There’s a ship there, with no reference for size or distance.
..She knows what it is by shade and profile alone, though; it’s iconic. Ava’s fascination with warships has readily provided the answer as to what this is, undeterred by the thrum of pain lingering in her head.
-She’s being collected by helium steamer. A stealth ship.
The hull is pitch black for a coat of microwave absorbent nanotubes. The evaporation of liquid helium is used as open-cycle coolant, bringing its surface to sub -260°C. Its shape is to minimise the surface exposed to the sun. A nuclear-thermal-rocket is mounted internally in the ship’s centre, and swivels between shuttered openings in the hull, she knows.
It should not be here. It should be at the innermost centre of the Terran Accord.
A hatch promptly slides open in the hull. Manoeuvring thruster plumes ignite at once at either end of the ship, slowing it to rendezvous. And only now can Ava find a sense of proportion.
It’s too big. The hull should be around- ten metres wide; the airlock is proportionally too small for that, by far. The RCS plumes are the huge deep red cones typical of main engines.
-Affini ships are big, though.
This isn’t an Affini ship. Utterly stupid thought. -Why would they go to this effort for her in the first place? And- she’s spoken to Emmy. Emmy is very blatantly real. She’s being absurd.
So she’s fine. Ava’s fine. What a wholly silly thought to have. It’s just an exceptionally big – next generation – Terran stealth ship. A stealth battleship, or something. New out of the docks, and out here, for some reason. It has the design of a Terran stealth ship.
“Can you see us, Ava?” Emmy calls.
“-I see you. I see you.”
And she’s going to be okay. The airlock is steadily taking up more of her vision, with the ship’s approach. She’s on course to fall right in, without assistance.
“I see you too,” Emmy replies warmly. “-Though I’ll have to pass you to your reception, once you’re inside.”
She’s nearly there.
“Yeah. -Thank you, Emmy.”
“You’re welcome, Ava,” she replies.
She crosses the threshold of the airlock. She’s still spinning forwards, slowly, but she can see an up-coming railing to grab.
The hatch slides shut behind as she stretches out an arm, and Ava successfully grabs a hold of the bar.
-The unaccounted-for momentum of the heavy suit’s legs pulls them up, though. She pivots on her hold, and steadily rotates until her back makes a clumsy collision with the wall, with a grunt. “-Ow. Ow.” The airlock lights turn yellow for pressurisation.
“A-Ava? All okay?” Emmy jumps in.
“-I’m okay sorry, just a bump,” Ava quickly replies. “..And I’m going to have these bruises for weeks,” she notes, dreading. The cramped metal interiors of warships are conducive to bruises, and bully existing ones. And she must be completely covered in them.
“Oh- dear,” Emmy sympathises. “We’ll get you taken care of, Ava.”
“-Please see if there are any jumpers to spare?” Ava suggests. Lots of padded clothing. She'll need more than will be available.
“I– Of course, I'll pass that on,” Emmy placates. “Though, I think I have to hand you off now, petal.”
“Right,” Ava agrees. “-It was nice meeting you, Emmy?”
“You too, Ava," she replies. "I can, um, visit, sometime?”
“Sound good. -I’d like that. I’ll see you then, then.”
“See you, Ava. Everything will be okay.”
There’s an abrupt silence, following the farewell.
The lights shift back from yellow to white. Awareness comes to her, for what the headache allows, and she looks around the airlock through her confined visor.
It’s big for one; enough for her not to be able to reach a wall, if she were in the middle of it. It’s exceedingly sparse for that of a warship, uniform walls mounted by only railings, and a minimalist console opposite her. Lines of honeycomb-pattern grate along the apparent floor. Not crammed with supplies, or spacesuits.
And- Ava needs her suit off. She needs free air and to not be confined anymore and to shed this clinging reminder of outside.
-She sets to sliding open the latches of her collar, then pushes up and twists her helmet and with a solid click it comes free, discarded upwards.
Her field of view opens up, and new air touches her face. For all that it should be just like that of her suit, it feels completely fresh, cool on her skin, comforting. She readily pulls it into her lungs in full breaths.
She leans her head back, breathing out. This was the most horrid day. She’s through it.
She’s going to take a moment, and then get the rest of this suit off. She’s going to take another moment, before getting her injuries seen to. There’ll be more after that, but eventually she’ll get to curl up in a padded closet and sleep, and it’ll be so truly nice.
The airlock’s interior hatch slides open, and her eyes flick to it.
Ava’s chest hurts, with the almost physical sensation of her relief twisting and coiling into something other.
This isn’t right. This isn’t okay. It was over. She can feel her head shaking of its own volition with the deep, visceral denial that’s just hijacked her body. “Don’t,” her mouth moves and her voice quietly makes without conscious input, like her subconscious has stepped in to plainly demand that the affini before her turn around and leave.
Her flight reflex screams at the fact that she can’t run, make distance, avoid, without gravity to give her a surface.
It’s twice her size. Its leaves and vines are a deep green, interspersed by panels of bark, and dotted with a huge quantity of flowers. Each and every of which contain a needle to inject her with-
–She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what happens next. She can’t imagine it. She just knows that this is bad. She can’t run anywhere, or fight back, or make demands. It’ll do what it wants.
Her eyes turn to the floor, and she doesn’t move, and doesn’t speak, and tries not to curl up or flinch or make sound.
“Oh, Ava, you’re alright. You’re alright, little one,” the affini speaks in a voice intelligible, yet distinctly inhuman, harmonic. “-I would simply like you to answer a couple questions, if you are able. You do not have to,” They continue. “Then you can rest, and we will see to your health and future. There is no danger here. You are safe.”
Ava can’t find words. She doesn’t think she could make them. She forces herself to nod, instead. She hasn’t internalised the words just spoken; she hopes they indicate that she won’t be readily hurt if she answers questions.
“It’s alright not to speak; just nodding or shaking your head will do, if you’d prefer.” Ava quickly makes another small nod. “Very good, little one.”
“Is your name Ava Victoria Hume?” they start. She nods.
“And do you need any adjustments, or medications, that aren’t on your Navy record?” -She shakes her head.
“Thank you, Ava. That’s everything.”
-That’s all? She looks back up- and there’s a quick flare of panic upon seeing that the affini is closer. She’s still out of their arm’s reach, just.
They.. smile, with a tilt of the head. “Now, I see that you’re not too comfortable, so I think you might like for this to pass quicker, and to rest sooner.” they explain. “I have a flower to help you sleep, and I promise that you’ll wake all safe and comfy in bed. All can be explained once you’re more at ease. Does that sound nice?”
..Ava compels a hesitant nod. It’s likely rhetorical, but- she can’t affect what comes next, anyway. Escaping to sleep, with less waking experience of it, sounds so much easier.
“Okay. You’re doing so well, Ava,” the affini affirms. They flick their wrist, and it.. reforms, vines that made the body of a hand receding, and a flurry of petals flowing out from within their arm, spiralling into a tubular flower that opens to around the size of Ava’s palm.
The affini carefully closes the remaining distance between them. Their hand(?) comes up to her face, and she keeps still. A corolla of soft petals is gently fit over her mouth and nose. Ava blinks.
“Just breathe, Ava.” Having subconsciously stopped, she makes her lungs work again. “Well done. Very well done.” It smells sweet.
And it takes quick effect. Her eyes feel heavy, and the tension is falling out of her body. The remnants of her headache are drowned, and the noise of her thoughts smoothed out. ..She doesn’t feel scared, she notices.
She thinks to glance up at them, but finds herself thoroughly too tired for it. It’s a comfortable, gentle tiredness.
The momentum for further thought rapidly dwindles to none. Ava finds herself asleep.